Lubricants help manufacturers diversify

Enhancing machinery performance in the evolving manufacturing landscape

Aptean’s report, Discrete and Process Manufacturing: 2024 Trends and Outlook for North America, predicts the manufacturing landscape will see a surge in new product developments as manufacturers diversify to attract new customers and suppliers. This presents challenges on the shop floor, including the need for machinery to efficiently manufacture new components from new materials. Here, Chris Johnson, managing director at specialist bearing supplier SMB Bearings, explains the vital role of lubricated bearings in diversified manufacturing.


Industrial bearings play a pivotal role in machinery by facilitating smooth rotation, reducing friction and enhancing performance and reliability. Manufacturers will need these advantages as, according to Aptean’s report, they enter 2024 with a particular focus on innovation/R&D, product development and a desire to acquire new customers. Efficiency and sustainability will be paramount in this diversified manufacturing approach.


At the equipment level, ‘efficiency and sustainability’ means minimising energy consumption while extending the lifespan of machinery. The often-overlooked factor in this success is specialised lubricants, which are critical for ensuring optimal bearing performance, and therefore machinery performance, in a range of settings from automotive and aerospace, to food and beverage and military applications.


Aside from choosing the right lubricant, maintaining lubrication is also important — failure to regularly lubricate a bearing can lead to overheating, heightened wear and bearing impairment. These problems cause extended downtime and increased maintenance costs, and the in worse-case scenarios, premature failure of equipment. Whatever the scenario, maintaining lubrication in industrial machinery is a task that demands the correct choice of quality lubricant for your application, as well as regular monitoring and appropriately scheduled maintenance.


Choosing the right lubricant

Bearings are often supplied with a standard lubricant, suitable for many applications with a wide temperature range and corrosion inhibitor. However, some applications demand more from a lubricant, necessitating a change to optimise performance. For high-speed applications, low viscosity base oils are desirable, along with smooth thickeners that generate less heat and retain oil better. Vertical shaft applications may require stiffer greases to stay in place, and extreme temperature applications demand specialised low-temperature lubricants.


For food and beverage applications, specialised, approved lubricants are essential. They must be non-toxic and water-resistant for compliance with hygiene requirements and standards.


Low torque applications such as precision instruments, medical equipment, electronics, robotics, automotive and aerospace components can all benefit from dry lubricants like low viscosity greases. A molybdenum disulphide additive is recommended for components subjected to heavy loads. Military applications and highly regulated environments utilise radiation-resistant lubricants, while perfluorinated lubricants are chemically inert and suitable for extreme conditions.

Reducing bearing failures

In one case, a manufacturer of products made with ethanol was facing severe early bearing failures in its equipment. The shielded bearings, exposed to an ethanol mist, were failing quickly due to rapid grease breakdown.


The bearing manufacturer was unable to provide an alternative for the small-scale application. So, the manufacturer instead turned to SMB Bearings, which recommended applying a chemically resistant perfluoropolyether (PFPE) grease to the bearings. PFPEs are becoming increasingly popular among OEMs, and they are proven to reduce bearing failures and eliminate noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) — even in the harshest operating conditions.


SMB Bearings lubricated some sample bearings for the manufacturer, and these continued to operate effectively six months later. Based on this performance, the manufacturer switched to specifying the PFPE grease for its future production.


Another instance involved manufacturing with equipment in a cleanroom environment, which maintains a very low concentration of airborne particulates and where suitable lubricants are vital to prevent contamination. In this case, the manufacturer faced issues with shielded thin section bearings that were emitting vapours at elevated temperatures, causing lens mist and customer complaints.


After receiving the bearings, SMB Bearings’ specialists quickly relubricated them with a selection of cleanroom greases, lubricants designed to reduce contamination and component failure in cleanroom environments, and vacuum greases, lubricants with low volatility used for low pressure environments. By using lubricants selected from SMB Bearings’ existing stock, the problem was resolved within days. Again, the customer swiftly approved the new bearing lubrication for its future production.


Sometimes, experimentation is needed. In one instance, to address a customer’s issue with oil drying up in harsh conditions, SMB Bearings experimented with low torque greases and different grease fills. In doing so, its specialists discovered a combination offering significantly lower resistance, which also doubled the original bearing life.


Ensuring machinery efficiency

These examples demonstrate how choosing the right lubricant in industrial manufacturing applications is a task that demands expertise, adherence to safety measures and meticulous attention.


SMB Bearings also maintains a diverse stock of lubricants for nearly all bearing lubrication challenges, to ensure a faster turnaround time. This stock is based on collaborations with numerous lubricant manufacturers and suppliers and includes hard-to-find lubricant types. Meanwhile, at its bespoke relubrication facility, SMB Bearings cleans and relubricates bearings from its own stock as well as customer-supplied bearings. It can relubricate stainless steel, chrome steel and hybrid bearings with customer-specified lubricants.


One thing’s for sure, manufacturers cannot afford to overlook the role of specialised lubricants — especially as, as outlined in Aptean’s report, they seek to diversify to attract new customers and suppliers. Specialised lubricants are the silent partners in ensuring machinery efficiency, longevity and sustainability in diverse applications.


Visit SMB Bearings’ website to learn more about its specialised bearing relubrication service.